With Mom home to watch the kids, Sydney and I slipped out earlier this week for a date night. We started with an early dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant on the other side of town. We were, for a long while, the only patrons, which suited us just fine, but by the time we left the house was full. We had a range of starters, from fresh herb salads to hummus and other spicy dips, and we ended with some delicious pistachio baklava. The food was fantastic, and I was very happy to note that they do take-out, so we stand a chance of being able to eat their food again (I’ll add their name to our small list of Thai and Indian delivery places!). We then ran back downtown and slipped into seats at the theatre for a production of Bach’s St. John Passion. We enjoyed the concert, but I’ll admit to being distracted by the incredible discomfort caused by our seats; we couldn’t sit in a normal position, since the seats in front of us were too close to our own, so we shifted from one awkward perch to another throughout the concert. We’ve attended concerts there before, and I can attest that it isn’t just the inexpensive seats that are uncomfortable. This might be one case where old buildings have their drawbacks, gorgeous as the Sheldonian Theatre may be. But it was wonderful to have a leisurely dinner and a night out together without having to hurry back to a new babysitter or wonder if the kids were doing alright.
Yesterday Mom and I left the kids with Sydney and took off for a day in London. We had the general mission of getting out to explore a bit of London, without any desire to make a rushed “been there, done that” deal of it. We strolled by Buckingham Palace, where Mom was thrilled to see the Guards at work, and where I was amused to watch the masses of visitors milling around the gates. At our second stop, Westminster Abbey, we were put off by the four-hour wait to get in. Four hours?!! Most of the people in line were with travel groups and looked cold and bored. I was a bit worried that we’d find the rest of our stops just as busy and off-putting, but apparently all the tourists were standing in line at Westminster, since we didn’t have trouble the rest of the day. We strolled around Westminster, including by Big Ben (which I love to hear tolling the hour, since I’ve read echoes of it in so many novels, including Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway) and the Houses of Parliament, and then we took the Tube (London’s subway system) over to St. Paul’s, where we spent the next several hours enjoying the gorgeous architecture.
I made Mom climb to the top of the dome at St. Paul’s (300 feet up; over 500 steps), and we spent some time walking through the remarkably sizable and lovely crypt (not the cobwebby thing I’d imagined). As we listened to and read information on the history of the church, I was really interested in the way that the bishop explained the role of the church in the community and in the nation, the function of the various physical elements in the church, and the music and liturgy offered there. Talk about speaking to a varied flock! I would guess that about half of the visitors there yesterday were Catholic in background, judging by the Romance languages I was hearing. How do you offer an account of the Anglican church’s separation from the Catholic Church in the span of two minutes? Or the ways that Christopher Wren’s design (he designed not only St. Paul’s, but also the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, where Sydney and I were Thursday night, among many other things) was modified to tone down the European (i.e., Catholic) influence? And how, on Easter Saturday, do you give a quick summary of the birth and death of Christ, and indicate the ways in which Biblical themes can be found in every fresco, every mosaic, and even the floorplan of the church building? As you can tell, I did a lot of people-watching and meta-touring while we were there. It was interesting, and I was so glad to get to spend Easter Saturday wandering such a lovely church, watching others do the same.
After St. Paul’s, Mom and I had tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury (which has a branch at St. Paul’s, Lisa!), walked across the Millennium Bridge, and pored over the fun children’s books and games and puzzles at the shop in the Tate Modern Museum. I’m a sucker for a good children’s book! Since it was getting dark, and it was plenty cold yesterday, we headed back to the Tube, stopped in at Harrod’s, the famous department store, to wander and buy a bit of food, and then caught the bus home. It was a really fun day out. Although the Tube was often uncomfortably packed (ack! to do that every day!), I was surprised at how easily we made our way around, armed with just a Tube map. And, although I admired all of the children we passed that day, I was thrilled to be able to actually read the informational signs on our stops, drink a cup of tea in a leisurely fashion, and not have to bend ourselves backwards trying to accommodate children’s schedules.
Today we are a sleepy household, as Mom and I recover from a long day out, and as Mom gets ready to head home tomorrow. We’ve had a really fun, relaxed time with her, and I can tell that both kids and I are going to go through some withdrawal this week.